U.S. Reiterates Restrictions on Cuba Educational Trips

In March of this year, the United States Department of Treasury issue a statement entitled, “Advertising Educational Exchange Travel to Cuba for People-to-People Contact.”  As the title indicates, the article addresses advertisements by the steadily growing industry of companies that take U.S. citizens to Cuba for “educational” purposes.  But the article also points out the requirements that such entities must follow, and hints that some of these companies might be violating the law.

Addressing advertisement as the issue seems a little odd, but apparently somebody complained about the plethora of advertisements rather than the increased travel.  The memorandum states that “persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction” are not prohibited “from designing or accepting an advertisement related to licensed Cuba travel and publishing the advertisement in any medium, including providing a link to the website of the licensed organization (the “Licensee”) whose services are being advertised.” The memorandum then contains a long paragraph regarding legal advertisements offering such travel opportunities, and states that the licensee can advertise, but restricts non-licensed parties from advertising for a licensed party .  For example, a non-licensee cannot collect funds for travel or be paid a referral fee.

Organizations that that take tours of U.S. based persons to Cuba must be licensed to do so pursuant to U.S. law.  The article states that “These licenses authorize individuals to engage in travel-related transactions involving Cuba that are incident to engaging in educational exchanges not involving academic study pursuant to a degree program provided these exchanges take place under the auspices of an organization that sponsors and organizes such programs to promote people-to-people contact.”
The memorandum addresses the requirements that the licensee must follow.  The restrictions are aimed at the Licensees, and the focus of their advertisements; it does not address what the participants actually do. A prospective participant should realize that the ads that do not talk about tourist activities and off-hour activity does not mean there will be no such activities.

The memo states, “…each traveler must have a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba. Advertising travel that appears to deviate from this requirement may prompt contact from OFAC [the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control] to ensure that the people-to-people travel meets applicable requirements and thereby complies with current U.S. policy with respect to purposeful travel to Cuba. Advertisements for people-to-people travel that give the appearance that trips will focus on activities travelers may undertake off hours after their daily full-time schedule of people-to-people activities may give an incorrect impression and prompt contact from OFAC that may potentially result in a license suspension while we investigate. OFAC does not authorize transactions related to activities that are primarily tourist-oriented, including self-directed educational activities that are intended only for personal enrichment….”

It concludes with a statement that “Licensees that fail to meet the requirements of their licenses may have their licenses revoked or be issued a civil penalty, which can range up to $65,000 per violation.”

The Miami Herald’s May 15, 2012 Article titled U.S. Changes Requirements for Some Cuba Trips, by Juan O. Tamayo, states that complaints  “have dogged the program since President Barack Obama approved it last year in a bid to increase Americans’ engagement with regular Cubans.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., drew laughter during a speech in Washington last year when he read the schedule for one such trip, showing salsa dancing sessions every night. Other tours have met with Cuban government ministers and even a daughter of ruler Raúl Castro.”
 The article quotes Rubio as saying, “…I still have concerns about the program in general, because it is difficult to manage and avoid abuses.”
The article also quotes a Treasury spokesman, who said the additional restrictions were issued “in part because of reports we received.” We wonder who was complaining:  other licensees, customers, the anti-Castro exile groups, or who.

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